Aidita Iris Cruz: old feminists, longtime feminists.
Aidita Iris Cruz, from Puerto Rico, has been an activist for women for many years. She founded Pensamiento de Mujer del Centro , a group that made history for its community work, and she has long been involved in women's issues, with an emphasis on health and sexual and reproductive rights. Recently, she has turned her attention to the topic of women growing older, working for the best possible quality of aging. She gave a workshop on the topic at the XI EFLAC, which was very highly attended by older women and even some younger ones.
How have you been working on the issue of women growing older, in a personal fashion, with a group, through some sort of project?
Well, we have a non-profit organization that is called Envejecer Juntas (Growing Old Together) where I have been working on the topic of older women. Our main focus is working with older women who live alone. First, we carried out research two years ago, and we interviewed a hundred women who lived along in the rural areas of Puerto Rico. This process really meant a lot of hard work for me, because each interview was a life story. In general, these women have very few people to talk with, so each conversation was very long because they told you nearly their whole life story, and they had been left all on their own. In Puerto Rico, there are many women whose children have all gone, they have emigrated to the United States, and as the women say: "They send me money, they send me postcards, they write me, but they never come to visit" or "sometimes they come once a year and that just isn't enough to easy my loneliness." Since the stories of women who live alone are very sad, and since we are experiencing the same thing, I wanted to work on this issue with other colleagues. And I also think that feminism has given us a great deal, but it also leaves us very alone, the fact that we think differently, that we are women who have to constantly struggle, that we are intelligent women who ask questions and that also brings us loneliness. It's a paradox but it's true.
It is a very complex issue to address and that is why you wanted to talk about it in your workshop.
That's right. In reality, we wanted the participants to tell us whether or not they felt that feminists were including or overlooking the issues of older women, and the workshop just took on a life of its own. The women who took part wanted to bear witness to what feminism had given them or they wanted to talk about their lives in general, which I thought was just fine. For example, one of the women who took part said that she had the best orgasms of her life after she learned about feminism, and then I said, that is great, but we came here to talk examine how we grow older, we want to discuss the best way to get our issues put out there, on the feminist agenda, in the feminist debate. I have said it before, and I will say it again: I don't want to fight for the right to abortion anymore, I don't want to fight for sexual and reproductive rights anymore, not because I am not interested in these issues anymore, but because I spent a long time fighting really hard for all that. So now, I will continue to fight for women's health, but for old women's health. After so much activism, we deserve to look to ourselves and to figure out what we are going to do about our health. We have worked for years and years in non-profit organizations for women, but many of us are facing the fact that we have no retirement benefits. In Puerto Rico, we have the right to social security, but it is a pittance. So I am going to be a poor, old feminist. But of course when I look back, I wouldn't change what I am or what I have done, but it is time for me to work for my peers and for myself. I want the feminist movement to incorporate our demands as well and to not exclude us.
But you do not deny your own history...
No, of course not, but I have to focus on how I am going to live when I am older. I want to have a dignified life, and I want to at least have my basic needs met. There are many of us that have this concern.
So from this perspective, I organized this workshop with my colleagues, but I realized that the women who attended were so eager to talk that the workshop was just too short for us to be able to dive in to the more serious issues, matters of life and death, quality of life and also the issue of loneliness.
This often seems to happen in workshops. We have so much to talk about. Women need more opportunities to talk to one another and share their experiences.
I agree, and I think that we need to write more about our issues, because as long as you remain silent, nothing will change. You have to have an impact on the public debate and also in the feminist debate, which has not taken this concern seriously, it seems to me.
Discrimination against participation by older women can even exist within feminism itself.
Yes, it is true, and it is even hard for older women to find jobs in feminist organizations. Even with my considerable resume, I can't find work because there is a tendency to think that we need new voices, the famous "generational turnover." Today, I am giving some workshops for women who have lost their jobs, because in my country, most of the people who are losing their jobs are women. So, I work with them on their self-esteem and their empowerment, and some the women are young women, but there are also older women who have no way of supporting themselves, and I am interested in developing a line of action and support for them.
Puerto Rico is also being affected by the economic crisis.
Of course, in Puerto Rico the crisis is overwhelming for the general population, although the tendency is to think that we are part of the First World, but we have serious social problems and there is widespread discontent. And older women have very low self-esteem because they endure poverty, on one hand, and loneliness on the other, but they also face the historic discrimination against old age that exists in many societies. But that is why I am interested in working on this issue in depth, to contribute from my experience as a feminist and as an older woman.
How old are you?
I just turned 70 in January. I had two parties, one with my "sister crones" and another with my family. They were lovely, with music from the 1970s, songs by the Beatles, the music that we listened to back then, and I decorated with peace symbols everywhere. My 70th birthday parties were fabulous. I really enjoyed myself, and I am still enjoying myself because I said that I was going to celebrate all year long. We have to recover the notion of old age as being full of potential, but that means that we must first meet our basic needs in order to be able to live with dignity.